Death is just a doorway between life and Life

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that God is good. I mean, you know He’s good in that distant disconnected way like the elected official is good or the popular spiritual leader is good or the hero you admire is good. He’s good, but He doesn’t really get you. There’s a big difference between knowing that God is good and truly understanding His goodness.

There’s so much sorrow in the world. There’s so much hurt. People hurt each other physically and emotionally. We say things to each other intended to cut and demean. Some are the brunt of general meanness. Others are not even involved in the evil that’s happening, and they still get hurt. And even in the innocent passing of time, we lose people we love. Sometimes we expect it, due to sickness or age. Other times we don’t. Either way, it still hurts.

And that’s the world we live in. That’s life here. Sure, there are joyful moments. But then “real life” rears its ugly head and reminds us that life isn’t going to get better down here.

If that’s our future, if that’s all there is, why do people keep living? I couldn’t do it if I didn’t have the hope of salvation, the peace of knowing that God really is going to work everything out. Because the truth is that God really is good–and not just in some distant, disconnected way. He’s here, in our lives, seeing what we feel and hurting with us when we hit those dark times of sorrow and sadness. And there’s something really important that we need to remember about this crazy, screwed-up, hot mess of a world we live in: It’s not all there is.

doorwayToday’s verse is John 16:33.

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.

Jesus wanted His followers to understand that even though the world was broken, they could still have peace with God through Him. He’s the one who made the way to be saved. He’s the one who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we would have the power to overcome the world.

Do you know what that means? To overcome the world? It sounds awfully dramatic, and maybe it is. But in a practical sense it means that the world has no power over those who believe in Christ. The world can be identified as a lot of different things. The influences that pressure you to disobey God. The powers of the enemy. Just the brokenness around us that threatens us with a hopeless, meaningless existence. However you define it, the world is powerless against a Christ-follower.

Even death itself has no power over a Christ-follower. We don’t have to fear it. We don’t have to run from it. We don’t even have to hate it. Because of what Jesus did for us, death is just a doorway between this life on Earth and our eternal welcome in Heaven with God.

It’s important to know that we will have trials and sorrows. Multiple trials and sorrows. And it’s important to know that it’s okay to mourn. It’s okay to grieve the loss of people you love, the destruction of relationships and families, the consequences people have to face for the choices they’ve made. When you’re sad, you need to grieve. Don’t bottle it up and put on a cheery face to make people feel better. Be sad, but know that you don’t have to stay sad.

The world is still under the control of death, the control of the enemy, the result of our sin. As long as that brokenness endures, we will live with pain and death and sadness. Oh, but we don’t have to stay here. There’s a day coming when we’ll get to go home, where nobody hurts each other, where nobody dies, and where we’ll never have to say goodbye again.

The world is full of death and sadness, but Jesus is stronger than the world. He overcame it. And because He overcame, we can too.

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There’s something better on the other side

The light in my upstairs landing burned out a few months ago. A burned out light bulb in the city is one thing. The ambient light from outside often illuminates the inside of a house enough to see by, but out here in the country? Everything is always pitch black, until there’s a full moon.

Burned out light bulbs have always been interesting to me because they don’t look much different from a new light bulb. At least with the old incandescent bulbs, you could shake them to hear if the filament was dislodged. But with the new curlicue bulbs, I haven’t figured out how to look at one and determine if it works or not.

They look like they should work just fine, but when you actually try to use them, they’re broken.

bulbToday’s verse is Hebrews 13:14.

For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.

Have you ever realized how broken our world is? Maybe it looks fine on the outside, but in practical use, nothing works the way it’s supposed to? It’s one thing to know it. It’s something else to experience it, to watch your friends experience it, to see the pain and the suffering it causes.

Just turn on the television. Just listen to the radio. Spend an hour talking to someone at work or at school or at church. Everybody’s broken, but the world is more broken than any of us.

It’s so sad because God designed this world to function in a certain way. He put processes and rules and laws in place when He created it, and while all of those processes and rules and laws are still working, they have to use pieces that are falling apart.

It’s like our own lives, our relationships. Two perfect people would never find themselves on opposite sides. They’d always understand what the other was saying, and they’d never try to hurt each other. But nobody’s perfect. So in this world, our friendships and relationships of all kinds have to be built with imperfect materials.

We’re all insecure. We’re all afraid. We’re all jealous. How do you build a lasting relationship when the base materials you have to use are only good for tearing things apart? Maybe you could build a beautiful home with a horrible foundation, and maybe it will look perfect–but the first storm that comes along will bring it crashing down because it doesn’t work. It was broken from the start.

There are days when I know God can fix anything. There are moments when I believe that God is the restorer and can mend hearts and relationships and families and friendships. And I don’t doubt that. I’ve never doubted that. And I’ve seen Him do miracles more than once.

But is our world really worth fixing? Have you really thought about that? I mean, it would be wonderful if He did, but if you read Scripture, you understand that the way everything is falling apart isn’t a surprise. If you know the Bible, you know this global rebellion against God was coming. Maybe it’s not what God wanted for us, but it’s what has to happen before He can come back.

It’s so tempting to get attached to our lives here because they feel real. The taste of the coffee in my cup, the feel of the sunshine on my face in my upstairs office window, the smell of the apricots blossoming in the orchard. But it’s not real–not by God’s definition. It will all pass away in the end, and if I’m not invested in the things that are real, I’ll have nothing.

This world where we live isn’t our permanent home. It’s nobody’s permanent home. We will all live somewhere in eternity, but there are only two choices. And if you don’t choose one, that means you’re automatically choosing the other.

Jesus is real. Faith is real. Love is real. And the souls of the people around you are real. That’s what you should be investing in. You can spend all your money and all your time working to achieve a status or a goal the world says is admirable, but if God doesn’t say it’s worth it, it’s not.

Don’t get caught up in living in this world. Christ-follower or not, you’re not long for it. Not in comparison to forever.

But don’t be discouraged either. Our world is broken. People are broken. We’re all falling apart physically, emotionally, mentally. Nothing works the way it was supposed to, but that’s because this world isn’t our home. There’s something better on the other side, and that’s worth believing in.

Brick in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Despair isn’t wrong; staying there is

Is despair wrong? Life can be hard to take sometimes. Brokenness is everywhere, and it’s difficult to work with broken tools. You can make do, but it’s ten times harder and infinitely more frustrating, especially when you know that life wasn’t meant to be this way. And there are many times when I am tempted to just give up. Giving up would be so easy, and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with easy, it’s rarely the wise choice. Because anything truly worth having was never easy to obtain.

But even if I don’t give up, even at times when I know I’m going to keep moving forward, I am still tempted to feel despair because I have so much to do and no time to do it. I am pulled in so many directions I don’t even know how to take a step forward; I couldn’t tell you which direction is forward and which is backward. And it’s in those moments when intense anxiety and deep despair hit me hard enough to take my breath away.

I had one of those moments Monday morning this week. So much to do. So many expectations. I was on the verge of a breakdown at work because there was just too much for one person to do alone. And then, I remembered (duh) that I’m not alone.

Brick in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Brick in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Maybe having too much to do at work doesn’t upset anyone else, but my work is important to me. My performance at work is important to me. It’s like anything else in my life; I want it to be a reflection of Christ. And as I sat at my desk on Monday and looked at the overwhelming piles of projects that had stacked up over the weekend, I despaired.

And then I got angry. And then I started thinking foolish thoughts. And then I pouted. Granted, this all happened in the span of about fifteen minutes before the Holy Spirit whacked me upside the head and told me to stop being childish. But that’s what despair does to you.

Despair is dangerous. People in the depths of it believe lies about others and about themselves and even about God. They jump to conclusions that aren’t true. They are liable to do or say things that they don’t even mean because they’re searching for something to hold on to, even if it’s the reality of someone else’s anger or hurt.

But as dangerous as despair is, it’s not wrong to feel it; it’s wrong to stay there, especially when you have the means to escape it. We’re human. We’re going to feel despair at times. None of us are perfect, and we live in a broken world. And all that brokenness will build up, inside us, around us, and it’s frustrating. And nothing breeds despair like frustration. So if you feel despair, don’t freak out about it. It’s normal. Just don’t choose to keep feeling it.

But that’s difficult. Because as horrible as despair is, somehow it becomes a warm blanket to curl up with at night. The anger and the ridiculously untrue thoughts and the self-righteous indignation feels good, especially to people who are exhausted and who are trying to do the right thing and being thwarted over and over again. But that warmth is deceiving; the comfort those emotions bring is only temporary. Maybe they’ll make you feel better for a few days, but when the real cold front sweeps through, you need more than just anger and self-righteous indignation to stay warm. And then your despair will only grow deeper. It’s a vicious cycle.

So what do you do? How do you stop despair before it becomes a habit?

I’ve said before that I’m not scholar. There may be better verses in Scripture that deal with it; I’m sure there are. But I can only share what I have learned. I’ve struggled with this all my life. I’ve learned that the best way to handle despair and challenging circumstances is to expect them.

Our world is screwed up. And so are we. Why do we expect that everything will be hunky-dory down here? It never will be. That’s the point of Scripture, to show us that there is more to this life than what we know about it now. I’m not saying to be paranoid. But don’t be knocked off your foundation when troubles come. Don’t be surprised by them.

And when you’re tempted to despair, don’t freak out if you do a little. There’s a verse somewhere that says God remembers that we’re made of dust. He knows we’re not perfect. That’s why He is. And when we are weak, that’s when we need to ask for His help. And I’m weak all the time, so I ask for His help a lot. And He does it. Whether we ask for strength or wisdom or whatever, He’s right there, and He listens.

Like on Monday. I got away from my desk for a few minutes and got my head straight and asked Him to help me sort through everything on my desk. And He did. I got more done on Monday than I had in a long time. And that’s not me. I’m not capable of focus on that level in regards to half the projects I was working on. That’s Him.

I felt despair at first, but I chose to ask Him for help to get out of it. And I got to work.

Feeling despair is natural, but continuing to give despair a foothold in our lives (especially as believers) is a choice. And it’s a choice that can ruin your life and the lives of people around you.

If you’re feeling despair today, don’t listen to the lies that you have no hope or that you’re not a worthwhile person. Those are lies, and they don’t come from God. Tune them out and look to Scripture. Remember how much God loves you and that He’s waiting to help you; you just have to ask and be willing to do what He says. If you choose to do that, you’ll experience something miraculous; your life will change. Your perspective will change. And before you know it, those things that caused you despair before will only be cause for rejoicing because your weakness allows God’s strength to take over. And I think each of us could use a whole lot of that.